No Medal of Honor for San Diego Marine killed in Iraq

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The secretary of Defense has decided not to overrule his predecessor and posthumously award the Medal of Honor to Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta of San Diego, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) announced Wednesday.

The decision by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta means the Navy Cross awarded to Peralta for heroism during the 2004 battle in Fallouja, Iraq, will not be upgraded to the nation’s highest award for combat courage.

Hunter had petitioned Panetta to overturn the decision made by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2008. Gates ruled that conflicting evidence makes it inappropriate to award the Medal of Honor.

Peralta, 25, an immigrant from Mexico, was killed during house-to-house fighting in November 2004.


Marines who were with Peralta during the battle swore that, although mortally wounded, he reached out to smother a grenade with his body, saving the lives of several Marines. But a pathologist report concluded Peralta was already brain dead from friendly fire and thus any actions were not done intentionally.

Hunter, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine officer, petitioned Panetta to upgrade the Navy Cross based on a recently released documentary film that seems to undermine the pathologist’s conclusion about how Peralta died. The film showed no injury consistent with a grenade explosion next to Peralta’s body, Hunter said.

Hunter said he was informed of Panetta’s decision by Jeh Johnson, general counsel of the Department of Defense. Hunter called Panetta’s decision ‘disappointing’ and said he believes the new evidence ‘clearly invalidates Secretary Gates’ conclusion that the grenade detonated 1 to 3 feet from Peralta’s left leg.’

The Marine Corps and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus have consistently requested that Peralta be awarded the Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor, Hunter said, is ‘the only award that Sgt. Peralta deserves.’

The Peralta family was notified Wednesday morning, Hunter said.


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Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times. (Bottom) A memorial to Peralta is set up at the Peralta family home in San Diego in December 2004. Credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times